Movie news and commentary…lots of it: “The Hobbit” is cast but <sigh> Mel Gibson exists and must be dealt with, somehow (updated)

Tonight’s box office preview has been moved to tomorrow because of a couple of a films news items that just can’t quite wait. The first can be dispensed with in a second. Casting has been announced on “The Hobbit,” short, snub-nosed and talented Martin Freeman will face his inevitable hobbity destiny as Bilbo Baggins, as Peter Jackson again casts a bunch of people I’ve mostly never heard of in smaller roles who’ll probably all be great.

And then there’s this news of Mel Gibson being let go from “The Hangover 2 just a day after it was announced he’d been hired to play a supporting role. Oy.

US-CINEMA-EDGE OF DARKNESS

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If Zach Galifianakis got a perfect body, and a perfect soul, what would he do with them?

So, what’s funnier than “Between Two Ferns” the (I hope) fake web interview program from comic madman Zach Galifianakis? That would be “Between Two Ferns” blended with the now legendary trailer for, what else, “The Social Network.” Yet another demonstration of the miracles of editing.

“The Social Network” Trailer – watch more funny videos

Ah, the wonders of a choral rendition, sung by what sounds like nothing but angelic 11 year-olds, of Radiohead’s “Creep.” I miss that great pop guitar lick from the original, however. You know that “chu-chuh” — not to be confused with the “Law & Order” “cha-CHUNK” — that comes in just before “I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo…”

H/t Cinemablend.

  

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Weekend box office: Can a horsey biopic or a darkly premised romcom disconnect “The Social Network”?

Personally, I would think that, if only because of the eternal fascination of tween girls for all things equine, “Secretariat,” about the seventies triple-crown winner, would be the more likely film to unseat the early Oscar favorite from writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher, “The Social Network.” However, jolly Carl DiOrio (whose background music on his video has become distractingly un-jolly) thinks not, while L.A. Times box office guru Ben Fritz projects a possible $15 million photo-finish between it and “Life As We Know It,” a poorly reviewed rom-com with a bizarre and unlikely premise — Kathryn Heigel and Josh Duhamel hate each other but are somehow saddled with the custody of their dead best friends’ children without their prior consent and, naturally, fall in comedic love.

Kathryn Heigl and Josh Duhamel experience

For its part, “Secretariat” is getting decent, but not too excited reviews. From Randall Wallace, a director with a style that is both big “c” and small “c” conservative and written by Mike Rich of “Finding Forrester” and “Radio,” the tone is definitely old school and inspirational. There’s an audience for that. Perhaps reading more than is there because of Wallace’s past films, Andrew O’Hehir of Salon both praised and damned the film politically, only to be slammed in turn by a liberal of a less snarky nature, Roger Ebert, who writes that “Secretariat was not a Christian.”

On the other hand, the week’s other new release, “My Soul to Take” marks the return of Wes Craven to the slasher horror genre after five years with a 3-D entry that DiOrio thinks has a shot at “the mid-teen millions.” The movie is being sequestered from critics and sure sounds like a retread of past dead teenager films. On the other hand, even as a squeamish guy who will never, ever see his “Last House on the Left” or “The Hills Have Eyes,” I’ve always admired Craven — I’ve been able to make it through a few of his films — and he was nice to me and some other geeks when I met him as a teenager. I won’t be mad if it does better than expected.

Zach Galifianakis in In limited release are far more movies than I have time to talk about tonight adequately, but I’ll mention a few anyway.  “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” is actually not such a limited release, as its being opening in 742 theater nationwide. It a dramedy featuring the underrated Zach Galifianakis from the team that made the highly acclaimed indie dramas “Sugar” and “Half-Nelson,” that is dividing critics to some extent, with my colleague Jason Zingale being not too impressed.

We also have some potential Oscar material with the young John Lennon biopic “Nowhere Boy” and potential retching material with the remake of the ultra-controversial grindhouse torturific horror rape-revenge legend, “I Spit On Your Grave” (also on my “never, ever see list”). “It’s a Wonderful Afterlife” is an Anglo-Indian production being touted as a combination of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “Shaun of the Dead.” Finally, I wish I could say better things than I did in my review of the latest from my favorite non-auteur living director, Stephen Frears, “Tamara Drewe” but ex-Bond-girl star Gemma Aterton is definitely worth a look.

Gemma Aterton in

  

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Weekend box office preview: PG/PG-13 comedies with veiled genitalia references take on “Inception”

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Yes, I’m going to be brief and terse today for, as you can see, we’re pretty busy here at Premium Hollywood right now. However, allow me me to tell you two things. As discussed at a recent press conference I attended, Paramount’s “Dinner for Schmucks” contains a Yiddish word literally meaning “penis” in its title and might just as easily been named “Dinner for Dicks,” if we were all living in a shtetl.  The 3-D kiddie sequel from Warner’s, “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore,” contains an at-one-remove non-reference to female genitalia that somehow seems a million times dirtier to me than the real reference contained in the wonderfully absurd name of the character played by Honor Blackman in the greatest-James-Bond-ever-made (aka, “Goldfinger”).

That being said, both movies have their potential commercial upsides and downsides as they struggle to top the predicted $25-$30 million dollar third weekend for Christopher Nolan’s brain-based blockbuster, “Inception.” I personally don’t know why any parents went to see the first “Cats & Dogs” beyond being dragged forcibly by little ones, but they went. I’m personally convinced watching ‘net videos of non-CGI assisted/created cats and dogs would be a lot more amusing.  The new film adds the 3-D factor and, as jolly Carl DiOrio notes, may be something of a test for the ongoing commercial appeal of the format-cum-gimmick.

Steve Carell has something to show Paul Rudd in I’ve seen “Schmucks” (been one, too) and, while I understand Dave Medsker’s more-negative-than-positive review — well, except for the part about Zach Galifianakis, who pretty much put me away — I myself come down more on the positive side. It’s not great film-making nor is it an example of great screenwriting, but it engaged me and made me laugh quite a bit, mostly based on the sheer invention of its cast, particularly the supporting players, most definitely also including Jemaine Clement. Considering the audience reaction the night I saw it, I’m willing to wager it’ll do the same for most rank-and-file film-goers and could perhaps over-perform on the ongoing appeal of stars Steve Carell and Paul Rudd.

There’s one more new major release, “Charlie St. Cloud,” a fantasy tearjerker for Zac Efron that apparently borrows a page or two from the Nicholas Sparks playbook and may perhaps set the hearts of some teens and tweens aflutter. It doesn’t seem likely to hit the big leagues. Of course, the reviews aren’t so hot.

There is also more than a little action on the indie/limited release front this week. The highly acclaimed “The Kids Are All Right” has a major expansion that could take it through to Oscar time.  There is “The Extra Man” which I’ve been covering here as you may have noticed (more is on the way) which I liked more than most critics. There is also the well-reviewed by nearly everyone but a few fine cinephiles, and me, “Get Low.” The Oscar talk is already flying about this one for the great Robert Duvall in his folksy mode, and we’ll see whether it allows the film some, forgive me, tender mercies from arthouse filmgoers.

Robert Duvall, getting low

  

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Press Conference for “Schmucks”

For those of us who enjoy contemplating the historical and political currents that run through film history, it’s tempting to look at the latest comedy from director Jay Roach (“Austin Powers,” “Meet the Parents,” “Recount”) as a possible reflection of American discomfort at the brutal nature of business and the growing disparities between the wealthy and the increasingly lumpen middle-class. However, when you’re talking about a movie that ends with a confrontation between a good idiot (Steve Carell) who designs amazing dioramas using dead mice and an evil idiot (Zach Galifianakis) with the power of mind control, but only over other idiots, that may be taking things a little seriously.

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Opening this Friday, “Dinner for Schmucks” borrows its premise and some of its plot from Frances Veber’s 1998 “The Dinner Game.” Paul Rudd co-stars as Barry, a rising L.A. executive who finds that entering his company’s upper echelon will mean participating in a competitive Dinner for Winners. All the guests are to bring an extraordinary person who has been unrecognized by society — in other words, a dithering idiot. The winner of the nasty game is the one whose guest is the most amusingly stupid.

Barry is initially appalled by the idea and assures Julie (Stephanie Szostak), his horrified art curator girlfriend, he’ll have nothing to do with it. On the other hand, he needs to pay for his Porsche and his absurdly large apartment at West Hollywood’s Sunset Tower Hotel (in real life, you’d need a billionaire’s wealth to afford that). It’s a choice between being nice and being unemployed and in debt. Then the fates seem to reward him when, driving through a quainted-up version of Westwood Village, he nearly runs over Tim Wagner (Carell), a clueless IRS employee and ultra-naive artist committed to his “mousterpieces.” Wagner, of course, turns out to be a goodhearted type whose attempts to help his new friend backfire in increasingly absurd ways. Fortunately, most of them are funny, particularly thanks to some outstanding and often completely unhinged supporting performances from Zach Galifianakis and Jemaine Clement of “Flight of the Conchords” as an absurdly pretentious and untalented, but hugely successful, artist on the make for Barry’s increasingly angry girlfriend and all other attractive women on the planet.

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“Dinner for Schmucks” isn’t going to electrify cinephiles or become a staple of screenwriting seminars, but a couple of weeks back it had proven itself to be a very effective laugh-getting machine at a West L.A. screening. Therefore, full of a free breakfast, a selection of journos were in a pretty good mood for a morning press conference at the Beverly Hilton with a number of funny and/or talented people, including stars Carell and Rudd, supporting bad guys Bruce Greenwood (“Star Trek“) and Ron Livingston (“Office Space“) as well as director Roach and writers David Guion and Michael Handelman, who are about to become directors themselves with the film version of the BBC comedy, “Cruise of the Gods.”

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